Status of Women in Patrilocal Societies

In matrilocal societies, women acquire a dominant position because they are less likely to be ill-treated. This is possible due to the mode of residence. The bride does not leave her mother’s residence and husband comes and stays with her. Therefore the women in the matrilocal societies get a chance of staying with her own in which lessens the possibility of any kind of ill-treatment. Such a position of women, arising out of the influence of mode of residence,, does not, necessarily has any social or legal background. It only indicates the superiority of the wife’s kin.

Nevertheless, it results in giving a dominant position to the wife. In the patrilocal societies, husband enjoys the same dominant position. Another interesting observation is that all the women dominated societies do not always choose martilocal residence. As for instance, the matrilineal Khasi tribes do not always live in matrilocal residences. In such cases, the husband moves into the residence of his wife soon after the solemnization of marriage and thereafter endeavors to set up a neo-local residence.

In the like mannner, we also find the instance of matrilocal residence even in patriarchal societies, the practice of kulinism in Bengal, until recent times may be cited as the best example. The practice of hyper-gamy prevailed among the ‘Kulin’ Brahmins of Bengal. Everybody has a desire to marry his daughters into the family of the Kulin Brahmin. The Kulin Brahmins were considered to be noble persons of very high status and descendants of very learned people.

Therefore the practice of Kulinism gained ground in Bengal. According to this practice, the wife had to live with her parents, and the husband who was polygamous, visited the wives occasionally, at their places. The off springs grew up in the house of their maternal uncle. The custom of ‘Gharjamai’ may be cited as another example of matrilocal residence in patriarchal society.

According to this custom the husband leaves his family of orientation and resides with his wife in the house of his father-in-law. Thus he develops the matrilocal residence. But simultaneously he happens to be the authority of his family. Hence the broad pattern of such families continues to be patriarchal in-spite of matrilocal residence.

In patriarchal societies the status of women is mainly determined on the basis of various taboos attached to women. These taboos may assume different forms such as protective, preventive of productive. As for instance, the taboos attached to Toda women are preventive, because the impurity of women arises out of pregnancy, menstruation, child birth etc. On all such occasions, the Toda women is found unsuitable for the religion-ceremonial life related to the salved buffalo diary. The first pregnancy of a Toda woman is believed as ritually contaminating so much so that in approximately fifth month she spends a complete lunar month in a temporary pollution hut secluded from her hamlet.

In the seventh month of her pregnancy, the husband conduct the ‘bow-and-arrow’ test to establish the social paternity of the child who is yet to be born. If a child was born to a woman who had not been given a bow, it would be considered as a bastard having no affiliation to patrician. This practice assumed prominence due to the prevalence of polyandry in the former days. As such, several husbands enjoyed the same wife and took turns to determine the paternity of the off springs born to her. Child birth is an equally polluting event for women, her child and other people and things who come in contact with them.

The Ho constitute a patriarchal society. But the husband does not always play a dominant role. Both dominant as well as subservient husband are found in the Ho societies. Among the Cholanaickens of Kerala, men enjoy higher status, nevertheless, the consent of the woman is necessary to form a union. If for some reason, the wife is dissatisfied with her husband, she returns things that she had received from the other party as gifts, the union is considered broken. Then the parties are free to marry again. The Cholanaicken widows are permitted to remarry.

Grigson is of the opinion that the Gond woman enjoys status and freedom in various spheres of life. She enjoys the right to choose her husband and seek divorce. She is also allowed to practise pre-martial sexual relationship. But as regards the other spheres of life women continue to be a depressed group. They work for their husbands as labourers. Among the Gonds, women are priced due to their ability to work as labourers. That is why one hardly finds any bachelor among them.

Although the Tharu are having patrilocal system of residence, their wives dominate them because the Tharu women are adepts in sorcery and witchcraft. Even the people from the plains are not free from the influence of notorious Tharu women because of their loose morality and beautiful looks. The Tharu women are able to cast spell over the local inhabitants of the plains.

The Khasa practise polyandry of the maternal or adelphic type. They also have patrilocal residence. While staying with the husband in his residence, the khasa wife is subject to physical, mental, emotional and social strains. Her status is hardly privileged. Nonetheless, the Khasa society has developed certain social device to ventilate the accumulated strains. Such an arrangement maintains the stability of their social system. The khasi women maintain double standard morality. They maintain a couple of diametrically opposite tendencies in their sexual life.

While living with her husband she works hard at warisome menial tasks, even against her will. But during her frequent visit to her parent’s house she is made free from all controls and restrictions. She indulges in sexual activities and releases her accumulated strain. In the light of this example, it can be well maintained that it is misleading to approach the social status of women in terms of low or high ones. A number of intermediate statuses may be evinced in terms of polarity.

The Kondhas give us a separate picture on the status of woman. From the theoretical point of view, the Kondha Woman is accorded with a high status. But practically the situation is just the reverse. She is not allowed to represent the village council or the tribal council. Nobody pays heed to her voice, she is subjected to physical and mental torture. She is mostly burdened with household and child rearing tasks. She is considered as an item of movable personal property. The Kondha society does not allow the women to thatch the house or till the land. The Kondha woman is prevented from joining the hunting expeditions along with her male counterparts. She is considered polluted during her menstruation. She is prevented from talking to the male members and remains confined in a secluded room during this period.

As regards the status of woman among the patriarchal Naga tribes, wide variations are marked. Whereas the Naga women belonging to the Sema tribe are socially better placed, the Ho and Angami woman enjoy comparatively lower status, despite the latter’s advantageous position in respect of property rights and sexual freedom. Notwithstanding her secondary position in the selection of husbands, the fact remains that the wishes of a Sema woman are always taken into account and generally respected. Her ability in performance of useful work is given priority over her beauty. She enjoys a high status in her husband’s household and her children are taken better care of with kindness.

The status of Juang woman is not uniform in all the spehers of life. In the domestic sphere, she usually takes part in the decision making process. But she is not consulted at the time of taking important decisions like her Kondha counterpart. She works very hard in the household. She assists her husband, takes care of children and looks after the family. She is unable to take part in important affairs of the village council.

She is prevented from coming out at the time of movement of a procession towards the newly selected cite for shifting cultivation from the village dormitory. The belief is that on all such occasions the woman is ominous so much so that if the party comes across a woman on their way to shifting cultivation site or annual hunting, they cancel their expedition and comeback to village. Like her Kondha counterpart, a Juang woman is deprived of thatching the roof or tilling the land.

Being the constant companion of the male members, the tribal women in middle India almost enjoy the same rights along with them. However, this does not necessarily equalize the status of both the male and female. Rather it increases their burden because along with their maternal duties and with their physical subservience they perform other tasks performed by men. Thus free scope for work and social mixing becomes a positive handicap and not a blessing.

Submitted by : Dr. Deepika, Category : Essay